Sarah was late, but that wasn’t her fault, that was the fault of the British rail system. Still, she could sense the anger in the way he held the steering wheel, in the way he changed gears. She was learning to drive too, it would make getting to jobs like this much easier. The road was winding and she was beginning to feel carsick. But she wouldn’t mention it. She’d stay silent, like he was.
Sixty quid plus travel wasn’t really her going rate but she was skint, and her rent was due on Monday, not to mention that Christmas was next month. She hated Christmas, always having to cook the dinner for her dad and sister. Why wasn’t it the other daughter who slaved over the stove? But no, it was always Sarah, being the eldest. Last time she saw her dad he’d been in a bad mood and had one of his outbursts. When was she going to get a real job, he’d asked. When was she going to start earning her own living? How much did she think she’d earn by the time she was thirty? What about thirty-five? He wanted answers, figures, which she couldn’t provide.
‘We’re nearly there,’ Tom said.
‘We’re nearly there.’
‘Oh,’ she said. ‘Good.’
The house was a converted barn on top of a hill. He parked the car and they got out.
‘We’ll walk the rest of the way,’ he said.
‘Sure,’ Sarah said, looking down at the mud. Thankfully she was wearing a pair of trainers she didn’t mind getting dirty.
‘Oh, have you got animals?’ she said, cutting across the path to look inside the stable on the right.
‘Don’t look in there,’ Tom said, but it was too late. She’d already seen them. Three black sheep, all dead.
‘I said don’t look in there,’ he said, irritated.
The door to the house was unlocked. That surprised her. Maybe people didn’t lock their doors around here. She’d always lived in a city. People locked their doors in cities.
‘I’ll take you through to meet Mandy,’ he said. She breathed a silent sigh of relief. So Mandy was real, he wasn’t a psychopath.
‘Hi,’ Sarah said, walking into the kitchen. It was big, with old-fashioned solid wood units, a big Aga, a heavy stone sink Sarah had only ever seen in magazines. It was posh, too posh for these two. They looked barely over twenty, with Mandy bare faced, her virgin hair scraped back into a loose ponytail. She was wearing jeans and a grey hoody, no shoes. Toenails unpainted.
Through a door Sarah hadn’t noticed came in another woman, her hair cut short into an unflattering bob, grey roots coming through.
‘And that’s my mum,’ Tom said.
‘Hi,’ Sarah said, offering the same smile she’d given Mandy.
‘Hello,’ said the woman, her face expressionless. ‘I’ll get started,’ she said to her son. He nodded.
‘Mandy will show you where to get changed,’ Tom said.
Mandy silently led the way into a dark corridor, and up carpeted stairs. On the landing waiting expectedly was a big dog with his tongue hanging out.
‘That’s Rolo,’ said Mandy.
‘Hi Rolo,’ Sarah said, walking around his heavy body. She didn’t like dogs, and ones this size positively scared her. She swallowed hard, hoping the dog wasn’t involved. There had been no mention of the dog in the ad, but she wished now she’d taken the time to look at their website properly. Who knew what their videos involved.
‘Get changed in there,’ Mandy said, pointing to a room with the door slightly ajar. ‘We’ll be waiting in the bathroom,’ she added.
‘Great,’ Sarah said, trying to sound enthusiastic, despite Mandy having lacked any enthusiasm in her own voice. Maybe she didn’t enjoy making the videos.
It was cold on the landing, now Sarah was only wearing her bikini. The door to the bathroom was shut, and she wasn’t sure whether to knock or just go in. She decided to knock.
‘Come in,’ Tom said. Sarah slowly pushed open the door. The bathroom was big, much bigger than Sarah’s bathroom anyway, which didn’t even have a bath. But with four of them in there now, and the camera on the tripod it looked cramped.
‘Sit there,’ Tom said coolly, pointing to a chair which had been positioned in front of the toilet. Sarah suddenly had visions of them pushing her back, so far back that she fell into the toilet bowl with her legs poking up towards the ceiling. She looked up at the ceiling now. It was white with a few spores of mould above the bath. She was familiar with such mould. Her bathroom was full of it.
‘Are you ready then?’ Tom asked.
‘Ok, we’re rolling,’ he said.
Sarah took this as her cue to look into the camera. She’d been filmed before, but never like this, in a bathroom, with a whole family watching her. There was usually a director, an assistant, sometimes even a make-up artist. Here, there were two teenagers and a mother. It felt strange.
‘We’re going to play a game,’ Tom said. ‘You talk about something you like, and every time we hear a specific word you’re going to get sploshed.’
Sarah suddenly felt frozen. Something she liked? What did she like? Right now she couldn’t think of anything. She cast her mind to her bedroom, the things in it. She liked Guns n Roses, Hello Kitty, Marilyn Monroe. But right now they all seemed like stupid things to talk about.
‘Come on,’ Tom urged.
‘I don’t know what to say,’ Sarah said quietly. She saw a slight smirk form on Mandy’s face and she wanted to get up and smash her face in.
‘What about your tattoos?’ Tom said. ‘Tell us about them.’
Mandy now had her arms folded across her chest, and the mother was standing behind her, holding the bucket, her face vacant again.
‘Ok,’ Sarah said. ‘Well my first tattoo was this one,’ she said, pointing to the daisy chain near her wrist.
Splosh. The chocolate milk was incredibly cold.
‘And my next one was this,’ she said, pointing to a heart on her other arm with the words ‘True Love,’ emblazoned across it. She no longer liked that one.
‘Then I decided to get a whole sleeve.’
‘A sleeve of what?’ asked Tom.
What? That was a stupid question. ‘Of tattoos,’ Sarah said.
The mother picked up another bucket.
‘And then I decided to get a chest piece.’
‘What’s a chest piece?’ Tom asked.
‘It’s a tattoo across your chest.’
‘How old were you when you got your first tattoo?’
Now that wasn’t fair. Wasn’t Sarah supposed to be the one who said the word?
‘I was sixteen,’ Sarah said.
‘What’s your favourite style of tattoos?’
‘Old school,’ Sarah said. She was freezing now, and the milk had got into her eyes. She needed to wipe them, so she did.
‘How many have you got?’